Conqueror 8183 – Dick Powell – 1933

Dick Powell as pictured in Stars of Radio and Things You Would Like to Know About Them.

A star of stage, screen, radio, and records, the 1930s would have been unquestionably more depressing without Dick Powell as a leading man.

Richard Ewing Powell was born on November 14, 1904 in Mountain View, Arkansas.  He began singing as a child, and started out in choirs and local bands.  Soon he got his big break as a vocalist with Myron Schultz’s Midwestern territory band, the Royal Peacock Orchestra.  Not long after arriving in Indianapolis, he joined Charlie Davis’ orchestra.  In 1927, Powell made his first records: “Beautiful” and “Is She My Girl Friend? (How-de-ow-dow)” for Vocalion.  Finding success as a a master of ceremonies, he later relocated to Pittsburgh, and then off to Hollywood.  When Warner Bros. bought out Brunswick Records—the parent company of Vocalion—in 1930, they offered him a motion picture contract.  Thus, he began his ascent to stardom, as a “boy tenor” in musical pictures in the 1930s, then as a hard-boiled tough guy in film noir in the 1940s.  He found early success paired with Ruby Keeler in a string of  musicals: 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade, Dames, and Flirtation Walk, most of which were choreographed by Busby Berkeley.  Later, he went on to portray Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet.  The aforementioned six titles account for only a small fraction of his extensive career in films.  In 1936, Powell married frequent co-star Joan Blondell, and later married June Allyson in 1945.  When television came around, Powell got in on it; he hosted Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre and The Dick Powell Show, respectively, from 1956 to 1963.  Dick Powell died of cancer on January 2, 1963, speculated to have been the result of radioactivity from nuclear testing near the set of the Howard Hughes film The Conqueror in 1956.

Conqueror 8183 was recorded on May 25, 1933 in New York City.  According to Rust, Powell’s accompaniment includes Bunny Berigan, Mannie Klein, Charlie Margulis on trumpet, Russ Morgan or Charlie Butterfield on trombone, Chester Hazlett on clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto sax, and Larry Binyon on tenor sax and flute, among others.  Both tunes are hits from one of my favorite movies, the 1933 (if that much doesn’t go without saying) Warner Bros. musical Gold Diggers of 1933, in which Powell starred.

First, Powell sings a bubbly rendition of “Pettin’ in the Park”, complete with sound effects.

Pettin' In the Park

Pettin’ In the Park, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

On the flip, he sings Gold Diggers’ big hit: the “Shadow Waltz”.

Shadow Waltz

Shadow Waltz, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

Brunswick 4535 – Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang – 1929

Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado.

Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado (1939).

May 25 is National Tap Dance Day.  It’s also the 138th anniversary of the birth of the great tap dancer and consummate entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  (The two falling on the same day is far from a coincidence.)  With his characteristic dancing and charismatic persona, Robinson broke numerous color barriers in the show business, and likely introduced the word “copacetic” into the popular lexicon.

Bill Robinson was born Luther Robinson in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878, at some point, he switched names with his brother and became “Bill”.  Robinson began dancing in front of theaters for tips at the age of five, and was eventually offered work inside the theater.  At one point, he had an act with Al Jolson.  His career as an entertainer was interrupted when the Spanish-American War broke out, and he enlisted in the Army.  Once out of the Army, Robinson embarked on a long and groundbreaking career in vaudeville.  After Bert Williams’ death in 1922, Robinson succeeded him as the top black entertainer in the United States.  Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “Bojangles”.  In 1928, Robinson appeared in Lew Leslies Blackbirds of 1928, and in 1939, he had a successful run in Michael Todd’s Hot Mikado.  Today, Robinson is likely best remembered for his film appearances with Shirley Temple, beginning with The Little Colonel in 1935.  Also in 1935, he appeared in Will Rogers’ last film, In Old Kentucky.  In his own final movie, in 1943, Robinson starred in Stormy Weather, with Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, and the Nicholas Brothers.  Bill Robinson died of heart failure on November 25, 1949.

Brunswick 4535 was recorded September 4, 1929 in New York by Bill Robinson, whose tap-dancing is accompanied by Irving Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang.  The personnel of the band seems to be undetermined, it is most likely a white studio group possibly consisting Mannie Klein and Phil Napoleon on trumpets, Miff Mole on trombone, Pee Wee Russell, Arnold Brilhart and/or Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Joe Tarto on tuba, Chauncey Morehouse on drums and an unknown piano and guitar player.  Some other sources however, including Robinson himself, cite it as Duke Ellington’s band.  I would be inclined to believe it’s more likely the former of the two.

On the first side of this very entertaining disc, Robinson patters with his feet and with his mouth on “Doin’ the New Low Down”, a song he introduced in Blackbirds of 1928.

Doin' the New Low Down

Doin’ the New Low Down, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.

On the reverse, Bojangles seems a little more exuberant on his performance of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'”.  “This is the way I walk when I got plenty money on Broad-way!”

Ain't Misbehavin'

Ain’t Misbehavin’, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.

Brunswick 6291 – The Boswell Sisters – 1932

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

May 20 marks a most important occasion, the 105th birthday of most underappreciated of the three Boswell Sisters, Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, whose quiet disposition and propensity to avoid solos would lead to her later being remembered as (and I quote verbatim from a 1938 newspaper article) “the other sister.”

Helvetia George Boswell was born on May 20, 1911 in Birmingham, Alabama.  Vet had the misfortune of entering this world around the time her sister Connie was afflicted with the ailment that left her completely paralyzed for a period of time, and without proper use of her legs for the rest of her life.  Mother Meldania devoted most of her time in that period to Connie’s rehabilitation, and could not attend to the new (as yet unnamed) infant.  The new Boswell baby was soon named Helvetia, after the condensed milk on which she was reared.  In 1914, the Boswells moved to New Orleans, out of the cradle and into the cradle of jazz.  When she started school, Helvetia was upset that the kids had nicknamed her “Hel”. Mother Boswell would have none of that, and from then on she was “Vet”.  Later, her father came to call her “Iron Horse Vet”, and she was noted for her fondness for “pig sandwiches.”  As her sisters Martha and Connie pursued their musical ambitions with vigor, Vet was along for the ride, supporting the sister act, though she preferred other artistic endeavors such as painting and drawing.  Though she never took a solo part, she was an integral part of the harmony, and every bit as talented as her more gregarious older sisters.

After touring ’round the world and then some, Vet secretly married Texas oilman John Paul Jones in 1934. They would not make the marriage known until the next year.  Vet’s marriage, combined with Martha’s soon after, created tension within the group surrounding the sisters ability to balance their professional and married lives, which was aggravated (and potentially incited) by their manager and Connie’s soon-to-be husband Harry Leedy.  Tensions came to a head in 1936, and the group disbanded.  Taking up residence in Ontario, and later on in New York, adjustment to home life was not easy for Vet, who found her new life as a housewife lonesome compared to show business.  In 1936, she gave birth to her daughter, Vet Boswell Jones, or “Chica”.  Vet never returned to the show business, though she had one final stage reunion with her sisters in 1955.  Many years later, Vet made a celebrated homecoming to New Orleans.  She passed away at the age of 77 in 1988, the last surviving and longest lived of the Boswell Sisters.

Brunswick 6291 was recorded March 21, 1932 in New York City.  The Boswell Sisters are accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, consisting of Mannie Klein on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Babe Russin on tenor sax, Martha Boswell on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, Artie Bernstein on string bass, and Stan King on drums.

I carefully selected “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” for this occasion for one reason, it’s the only one I’m aware of that features anything resembling a solo vocal by Vet Boswell.  She can be heard singing the line “you’ve got me in between…”  If you want to hear a rare recording of Vet singing solo, I recommend picking up a copy of Their Music Goes Round and Round, featuring a rare home recording of Vet singing “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”, available at the official Boswell Sisters Store.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

On the flip-side, the Bozzies perform one of their classic songs, the jazz standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”.

There'll Be Some Changes Made

There’ll Be Some Changes Made, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

Brunswick 6226 – Bing Crosby – 1931

Old Der Bingle, circa 1932.

Old Der Bingle, circa 1932.

May 3 marks the 113th birthday of the best selling recording star of the 20th century, and one of the biggest pop-culture icons in all of history, Bing Crosby who was born on this day in 1903.

Harry Lillis Crosby was born May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington, and moved to Spokane at the age of three.  As a youngster, he acquired the nickname “Bingo from Bingville” from a neighborhood girl with whom he shared an interest for The Bingville Bugle, a weekly feature in the Spokesman-Review.  The nickname was later shortened to “Bing.”  As a boy, Crosby worked at the Spokane Auditorium, where he saw Al Jolson perform.  While attending Gonzaga University, Bing joined a band of high school students, including Alton Rinker, called the Musicaladers.  After the group disbanded, Bing and Al went south to California, making their first record with Don Clark’s orchestra in October of 1926.  Crosby and Rinker were soon discovered by Paul Whiteman and drafted into his band as the “Rhythm Boys”, with Harry Barris added to make it a trio.  The Rhythm Boys stayed with Whiteman’s troupe until 1930, when they decided to remain in California after appearing in King of Jazz.  The group broke up later in 1930, leaving Crosby as a solo act.  Appearing for a time with Gus Arnheim’s orchestra at the Cocoanut Grove, Bing had a early success with “I Surrender, Dear”, and after leaving Arnheim’s company, had his first big hit with “Out of Nowhere” for Brunswick records.  On September 2, 1931, CBS began airing 15 Minutes with Bing Crosby, which helped to further catapult Bing into his huge success.

Crooning popular ballads in the same vein as Russ Columbo, with periodic whistling and interjections of his trademark “buh-buh-buh-boo”, Bing hit his peak in the 1930s, and stayed there for about a decade.  Over the course of the decade, Crosby made numerous appearances in motion pictures.  His first starring role came in 1932 with The Big Broadcast, which also featured the Boswell Sisters, Cab Calloway, and many other great talents.  His greatest film success came in 1944 with Going My Way, his performance in which won him an Academy Award for Best Actor  In 1934, Bing followed producer Jack Kapp to the newly founded Decca records (and in the process sacrificed much of the jazz that his style had previously held).  On Christmas Day in 1941, Bing introduced Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”, becoming the best-selling single record of all time with his May 1942 recording for Decca.  In the 1940s, Crosby pioneered the practice of pre-recording his radio programs.  Though his style of music fell from favor by the 1950s, Bing remained popular throughout the rest of his life, at the end of his life appearing in a Christmas special with David Bowie.  After a game of golf in Madrid, Bing Crosby collapsed and died from a massive heart attack on October 14, 1977.

Brunswick 6226 was recorded November 23 and December 3, 1931 in New York City.  The band, probably a studio group, as Brunswick commonly employed, may have included Mannie Klein and Jack Mollick on trumpets, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Benny Krueger on alto sax, possibly Harry Bluestone or Harry Hoffman, Walter Biederman, Walt Edelstein, Joe Baum on violins (lordy, that’s a whole lot o’ violins!), possibly Joe Meresco on piano; Eddie Lang on guitar; Hank Stern on tuba and Larry Gomar on drums.

First up is Bing’s radio theme song, “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)”.  It’s worth noting that this take, “A”, is different than the one I’ve heard on modern reissues.

Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day

Where the Blue of the Night—Meets the Gold of the Day, recorded November 23, 1931 by Bing Crosby.

The reverse, “I’m Sorry, Dear”, is a fairly typical of Bong’s early ’30s romantic songs, much like his classic “Just One More Chance”.

I'm Sorry, Dear

I’m Sorry, Dear, recorded December 3, 1931 by Bing Crosby.

Brunswick 6847 – The Boswell Sisters – 1931/1932

This website needs more Boswell Sisters.  It’s going into its sixth month of existence and still only has one article featuring the Boswells.  That simply won’t do.  After all, it was the Boswell Sisters that dragged the center of my interests back from the 1940s and 1950s into the 1920s and 1930s, and they’ll always have a special place in my heart.  To remedy this unacceptable omission, here are two of the Boswells’ finest sides, one of my favorite records.

Brunswick 6847 was recorded on two separate occasions, the first side was recorded December 7, 1932, and the second was recorded earlier, April 23 (my birthday), 1931, both sides in New York City.  The first side “Crazy People” features only a rhythm backing by Dick McDonough on guitar and Artie Bernstein on string bass, along with Martha Boswell on piano.  The flip side, “Shout, Sister, Shout” features a truly all-star accompaniment directed by Victor Young, including either Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Joe Venuti on violin, Arthur Schutt on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, and Chauncey Morehouse on drums and vibraphone.

Although the Boswells’ rendition of Edgar Leslie and James V. Monaco’s “Crazy People” was recorded in 1932, a few months after the sisters filmed their performance of the song for The Big Broadcast, it was not given a record issue until this one in 1934.

Crazy People, recorded December 7, 1932 by The Boswell Sisters.

Crazy People, recorded December 7, 1932 by The Boswell Sisters.

The Boswells’ classic performance of Clarence Williams’ “Shout, Sister, Shout” on the other hand was issued originally on Brunswick 6109 in 1931, and again issued on Brunswick 6783, before this issue in 1934.

Shout, Sister, Shout, recorded April 23, 1931 by The Boswell Sisters.

Shout, Sister, Shout, recorded April 23, 1931 by The Boswell Sisters.